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Republic of the Philippines

SUPREME COURT
Manila
SECOND DIVISION
G.R. No. L-46117 February 22, 1978
FRANCISCO M. BAUTISTA, petitioner,
vs.
HON. ALFREDO S. REBUENO, JUDGE OF THE COURT
OF FIRST INSTANCE OF NAGA CITY, BRANCH IV and
IRENE P. MARIANO, respondents.
Pico, Borja & Fernandez for petitioner.
Emilio S. Samson & Balderama-Samson for private
respondent.

FERNANDO, J.:
This mandamus proceeding seeks to compel respondent
Judge Alfredo S. Rebueno of the Court of First Instance of
Naga City, Branch IV, to continue trying a civil case
assigned to his sala, 1 the issue raised being that his Order
disqualifying himself amounted to a grave abuse of
discretion based as it was on a ground other than that
provided for in the Rules of Court. 2 To state the
proposition is to indicate the weakness of the stand taken
by petitioner, the defendant in such civil case for he would
ignore the second paragraph of Rule 137: "A judge may, in
the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself
from sitting in a case, for just or valid reasons, other than
those mentioned above. 3 It is by virtue thereof that
respondent Judge in the exercise of sound discretion
disqualified himself, granting a motion to that effect of
private respondent, a defendant in such case. In such
motion reference was made to certain "attendant
circumstances, particularly the fact that he [respondent
Judge] is a townmate and distant relative of plaintiff,
[giving rise to the] strong possibility that whatever his
actuations are in the instant case and any of its incidents,
[he] might be suspected of being partial to plaintiff; ...
. 4 Notwithstanding an opposition filed by petitioner on the
ground that the reason alleged is not one of those
provided for by law respondent Judge issued an Order
disqualifying himself and thereafter denied a motion for its
reconsideration.
The Order in question reads as follows: "This refers to the
motion for inhibition filed by the plaintiff and the opposition
thereto by the defendant. The Court knows from reliable
sources that the defendant has been doubting the
actuations of this Court as biased on the belief that the
Presiding Judge is related to the plaintiff. Similarly,
however, from reliable sources the Court also knows that
the plaintiff is doubting his actuations because of the
defendant's alleged utterances that he will surely win this
case. These circumstances has placed the Court in a very
unpleasant and untenable position, because either way he
acts in this case, whether in favor or against the plaintiff or
vice-versa, his actuation will always be tainted and beset
with doubt and misgivings which is highly detrimental to
the good name and integrity of the Court. The Judge must
maintain and preserve the trust and faith of the parties
litigants. He must hold himself above reproach and
suspicion. At the very first sign of lack of faith and trust to
his actions, whether well grounded or not, the Judge has
no other alternative but inhibit himself from the case. A
judge may not be legally prohibited from sitting in a
litigation, but when circumstances appear that which
induce doubt to his honest actuations and probity in favor
of either party, or incite such state of mind, he should
conduct a careful self petition. He should exercise his
discretion in a way that the people's faith in the Courts of
Justice is not impaired. The better course for the Judge
under such circumstances is to disqualify himself. That
way, he avoids being misunderstood, his reputation for
probity and objectivity is preserved. What is more
important, the Ideal of impartial administration of justice is
lived up to. 5 The conclusion set forth in such Order
concluded with this paragraph "In view of the foregoing
considerations, this Court hereby inhabits himself from
further proceedings in this case. Let the record of this case
be forwarded to the Honorable Executive Judge for proper
disposition. 6
That is the order assailed in this proceedings as being
contrary to law. Such is not the case. It is in accordance
with the aforesaid rule as well as the doctrines enacted by
this Court. mandamus does not lie. What was done by
respondent Judge is five from the taint of any infirmity.
1. Respondent Judge, inhibit himself lived up to the Ideal
of a judiciary striving ever to preserve public faith in its
fairness and objectivity. What better way was there to allay
suspicion and distrust as to a possible bias and prejudice
in favor of a party coming into a play. That was to manifest
fealty to a recent pronouncement in Villapando v.
Quitain: 7 "The commitment of this Court to a strict
application of the procedural due process mandate of
every litigant being entitled, to follow the language of
Gutierrez, to 'nothing less than the cold neutrality of and
impartial judge' is firm and deep-seated." 8 It has found
explicit affirmation in the Rule set forth above. Respondent
Judge clearly acted in accordance with its terms. He
exercised a discretion conferred on hint This Tribunal in
three cases at least, People v. Gomes, 9 Umale v.
Villaluz, 10 and Palang v. Zosa 11 gave its approval to lower
court judges voluntarily disqualifying themselves as
therein provided. We do so again.
2. There is an even more impressive reinforcement to the
conclusion thus reached. It is undeniable that even before
the 1964 amendments to the Rules of Court providing for
voluntary disqualification, this Tribunal on at least two
occasions sustained the actuation of lower court judges,
who, of their own free will, decided to record from trying
cases for reasons that did not call for their inhibition. The
first decision of that nature, still by far the most often quote
is Gutierrez v. Santos 12 referred to in Villapando v.
Quitain. The then Judge Arsenio Santos, now deceased,
disqualified himself from a case. He issued such an order
not because he had to do so under the Rules of Court but
because as a former private practitioner he had sent a
communication long before to the then Secretary of
Interior expressing an opinion favorable to the contention
pressed by one of the parties in the suit pending before
him although not on his behalf as there never was
between them a lawyer-client relationship. A mandamus
proceeding brought against Mm similar to this petition, to
compel him to try the case failed. A unanimous Court,
speaking through Justice Dizon, could not be any clearer
in sanctioning his voluntary inhibition. Thus: "Petitioner,
invoking the provisions of section 1, Rule 126 of the Rules
of Court, argues that the case of the respondent Judge
does not fall under any one of the grounds for the
disqualification of judicial officers stated therein. Assuming
arguendo that a literal interpretation of the legal provision
relied upon justifies petitioner's contention to a certain
degree, it should not be forgotten that, in construing and
applying said legal provision, we cannot disregard its true
intention nor the real ground for the disqualification of a
judge or judicial officer, which is the impossibility of
rendering an impartial judgment upon the matter before
him. It has been said, in fact that due process of law
requires a hearing before an impartial and disinterested
tribunal, and that every litigant is entitled to nothing less
than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge ... Moreover,
second only to the duty of rendering a just decision, is the
duty of doing it in a manner that win not arouse any
suspicion as to its fairness and the integrity of the Judge.
Consequently, we take it to the true intention of the law —
stated in general terms — that no judge shall preside in a
case in which he is not wholly free, disinterested impartial
and independent ... . 13 That was in 1961, three years
before the amended Rules of Court. A year later came Del
Castillo v. Javelona. 14 The voluntary inhibition of
respondent Judge then a justice of the peace, was due to
the fact that a lawyer of one of the parties was his first
degree cousin. In dismissing a certiorari and mandamus
petition assailing such order, this Court with Justice
Parades as ponente held that the Gutierrez doctrine was
applicable. Then came this portion of the opinion: "Little
need be commented on the salutary ruling, just, quoted,
except to add that if in the instant case, counsel for
respondent company, will win the case, the petitioner
could not be prevented from applying the saying that
'Blood is thicker than water,' and from thinking and
suspecting that respondent Javelona was biased and
prejudiced. The courts should administer justice free from
suspicion of bias and prejudice; otherwise, parties litigants
might lose confidence in the judiciary and destroy its
nobleness and decorum." 15 The principle was further
stressed in this wise: "In other words, while Rule 126
provides for disqualification, it does not include nor
preclude cases and circumstances for voluntary inhibition
which depends upon the discretion of the officers
concerned." 16 To repeat, what was implicit before is now
an explicit provision recording the discretion of a judge to
disqualify himself from sitting in a case, "for just and valid
reasons" other than those mentioned in the first paragraph
of Rule 137.
3. The lack of awareness on the part of counsel of
controlling doctrines is thus evident. There is reference to
decisions of this Tribunal none of which is applicable and
one of which, Joaquin v. Baretto was promulgated way
back in 1913, almost 65 years ago. 17 the law, it is not to be
forgotten, is a progressive science. There is then less than
full compliance with the demands of professional
competence, if a member of a bar does not keep himself
abreast of the trend of authoritative pronouncements.
There is need in this particular case, it would seem, to
impress on counsel of record what was said in the afore-
cited case of Palang v. Zosa: "This voluntary inhibition by
respondent Judge is to be commended. He has lived up to
what is expected of occupants of the bench. The public
faith in the impartial administration of justice is thus
reinforced. It is not enough that they decide cases without
bias and favoritism. It does not suffice that they in fact rid
themselves of prepossessions. Their actuation must
inspire that belief. This is an instance where appearance is
just as important as the reality. Like Cesar's wife, a judge
must not only be pure but beyond suspicion. At least, that
is an Ideal worth striving for. What is more, there is
deference to the due process mandate." 18
WHEREFORE, petition for certiorari is dismissed. No
costs.
Antonio, Aquino Concepcion, Jr. and Santos, JJ., concur.